Michael Moore is foremost a showman. You can almost hear the “Step right up”. This does not suggest he’s not sincere in his concern over gun control, laid off workers, and the Iraq war. But without the theatre–his ability to walk into corporate offices, tongue-tying executives and disarming the unsuspected with his “aw shucks” persona, he’s just another pitchman selling lumber in a forest. However that may be changing.
When he announced the production of “Sicko”, an expose on the health care industry, insurance and pharmaceutical companies went into amber alert, guns cocked and loaded. Then Moore reverses his strategy. Gone is the executive ambush. His bespectacled face doesn’t appear until a quarter of the way into the movie. His subjects simply tell their stories. The dog and pony show, for the most part, has left the building.
Airing at Cannes this year, “Sicko” was well received. Even FoxNews.com cited maturity in Moore’s approach. Early in the movie we meet a woman who lost her husband after his insurance company denied coverage for a bone marrow transplant, deeming it experimental. Then there’s the critically ill child, turned away at two hospitals, expiring at the third after a lengthy transport.
Critics and journalists at the festival were reported in tears. The brilliance of Moore’s approach is he focuses on middle class folk who thought they were covered. The message is clear: it can happen to you.
Former insurance company employees explain how bonuses were handed out for reducing claims, suggesting cases were decided on money, not merit. And while these practices are quite rightly exposed as inhumane, the obvious dilemma is how does a private company not focus on profits?
Moore answers this by parading us through state underwritten health care systems in countries such as Canada and France. French doctors and patients, predictably testify to the effect that the grass is indeed greener on the other side of the Atlantic.
Then Michael Moore, the ringmaster, reappears. He forms a group of workers from the 9/11 cleanup, who claim the government is unresponsive to their claims of comprised health due to toxicity at the site. He takes them to Guantanamo. His point here is to show that even the Gitmo prisoners enjoy better health facilities than many Americans. Refused treatment, he herds his wards a few miles east into Castro’s Cuba.
The Cubans, awaiting Moore’s group, escort them into clean, but not spacious accommodations. A friendly staff treats the 9/11 group and we are assured the citizens of the island receive the same courteous and expedient service.
With the exception of the trip to both sides of the Cuban island, which is pretty much a limp shtick, “Sicko” (a terrible title) is an impacting and important piece of work. It illustrates what we already know: the country has a serious health care dilemma. Unfortunately the solution is not on the show bill.
Lester Gray reviews movies for Examiner.com.